Kentavious Caldwell-Pope: More Than a Number Game

by Spencer Suk

The 2013 NBA Draft class didn’t exactly take the league by storm…. Of the top 7 picks, Victor Oladipo seems like the only player to truly meet expectations thus far.  Anthony Bennett became just the 5th number 1 overall pick in 26 years to miss an NBA All-Rookie team; Otto Porter was kept out with a hip injury for the first half of the year and was stuck behind Trevor Ariza and Martell Webster upon his return; Cody Zeller and Alex Len still look like big reaches as the 4th and 5th picks respectively; Nerlens Noel has yet to play a game due to an ACL tear during his one-year stop at Kentucky; and the most memorable part of Ben McLemore’s season came courtesy of LeBron James.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the 8th pick, doesn’t seem much different from his aforementioned fellow draftees….  Well, at least on paper he doesn’t: he averaged just 5.9 points per game on 39.6% shooting and not much of anything else, but quietly displayed his defensive prowess.

The main problem with basketball statistics is that they capture what happens on the offensive end much more accurately than on the defensive side of the ball.  This is mainly because offense is much more quantifiable than defense.  For example, you could show the seasonal shot charts of Dirk Nowitzki and Tyreke Evans to any stranger walking down the street, and I’m pretty sure 100% of them would tell you the German is the better shooter. 

On the other hand, there is no defensive statistic that demonstrates how Kentavious Caldwell-Pope harasses his opponent from the instant he walks across midcourt.  You wouldn’t know that KCP played lock-down defense against the Wizards by looking at his game log; you would need to dig deeper and either look at Bradley Beal’s shooting numbers (2-14) or some film.

If I told you Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is capable of becoming one of the best chase-down shot blockers in today’s game, you would go look up his stats and say, “You’re crazy!!! The guy is only 6'5" and had 12 blocks for the entire season…”

But numbers just don’t sum up defense. 

Which is why I’m going to show you 6 of Caldwell-Pope’s 12 blocks during his rookie season and rank them for you.  These rejections speak for themselves.  So without further ado:

6. StoneWalled (2:30-2:42)

At the exact moment Rodney Stuckey turns the ball over, you can see KCP cutting toward the near-side baseline.  But as soon as he sees Trevor Ariza snag the ball, KCP immediately starts chasing down one of the fastest players in the NBA: John Wall.

Wall grabs the ball, blows by everyone, and makes Brandon Jennings look silly with a slick behind-the-back move.  He rises for what seems like an easy dunk, only to see another hand fly by and swat the ball out of his hands.  Wall raises his arms in disbelief, waiting for a foul call, but it’s not coming…..

5.  KPC in MSG (1:14-1:25)

When J.R. Smith is flying down the lane, you better watch out.  But Kentavious doesn't want to hear it.  On this play, Caldwell-Pope is barely giving Smith any room at all.  So when Andrea Bargnani created space for Smith on the off-ball screen, everyone in the Garden was probably expecting another highlight reel play (you can hear the "oohs" and "aahs"), including Smith himself.  Instead, KCP recovers with incredible speed and meets one of the league’s high-flyers at the rim.

4. The Late Bloomer (2:15-2:38)

KCP waited until the last game of the year to shine.  He dropped in a career-high 30 points, hitting 5 of his 7 3-pointers.  The Pistons ended up losing by a single point, but Reggie Jackson definitely didn’t feel too good about himself after this one.

3 & 2.  Double-Trouble (1:43-2:16)

Two Euro-Steps.  Two chase-down swats.  The first on Elliot Williams.  The second on Thaddeus Young (with emphasis!).  All in the span of about 30 seconds.

1. Ain’t No Love Here

Nothing needs to be said here... except that KCP doesn't approve of cherry picking.

KCP came into Summer League this year looking to improve upon his first season, and he did. He led the Orlando League in scoring with 24 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.8 steals averaged across five games; although his shooting splits of 40.4% and 33.3% on field goals and 3-pointers undermine his scoring a bit.  On the whole he looked sharp--ready to assume a greater role in the Pistons' gameplan this season.

The Pistons added shooting guard Jodie Meeks this offseason, along with scoring guard DJ Augustin (who will back up Brandon Jennings and could spend time at both guard spots). Those two will make a combined $9 million this season, an indication that KCP could lose some playing time in a crowded backcourt.  However, both are notoriously porous on defense.

So expect Caldwell-Pope to become a fixture on Detroit's wings, where he will be tasked with guarding opposing teams' better perimeter players.  If there is one thing these highlights have shown, it is that KCP is a gifted athlete with a great defensive IQ and a knack for timing blocked shots.  And his new head coach, Stan Van Gundy, seems to agree: "There's a lot of talented guys who will put up numbers in summer-league situations, but that defense is going to translate.  He's got a chance, with the right focus, to be an elite NBA defender, so that's a great starting point."